When Alexis Lee Man Lin and John Low Zhong Heng traverse the Gobi Desert in China’s Xinjiang Province, they expect to do more than challenge themselves (and each other)! The Gobi March is comprised of 250km of rugged terrain guaranteed to test every entrant. To conquer the Gobi, Alexis and John will run across beautiful, harsh but exotic landscape and they may meet the Hui, Kazak and Uyghur peoples of the Gobi region. But the most profound aftermath of this event may be the emotional and spiritual impact on John and Alexis after they visit this mysterious corner of the globe. We’re curious what surprises await this dynamic duo in May and couldn’t wait to interview them!
RS: How did each of you come to love long distance running?
John: I have to thank the Navy. As part of my training, I was forced to run and swim long distances. Once this became habit, it turned into a way of life for me. I tell people that I run to stay in shape, but I also enjoy a bit of a runner’s rush.
Alexis: It’s a brainless sport! I don’t have to think, plan, buy equipment or invest a lot of money. I take off, hit my stride and my troubles, worries and concerns melt away. While running, I am close to nature and my surroundings are so beautiful, even if I’m in a bad mood I wind up in a blissful, positive mood when I’m done.
RS: When you both decided to register for the Gobi, did you know that you were the youngest competitors?
John: Not at first, since I’ve been eager to run the Gobi for so long. I wanted to participate with my cousin before we entered university, but we couldn’t find time to train together. Then, the school gave us this opportunity, so why not? I may be young, but I want to rediscover what it’s like to push the boundaries of my physical limits, as I did in the Navy.
Alexis: I’m going to the Gobi for the challenge and adventure, and if I’m one of the youngest, so be it. Maybe I’m naïve or perhaps the enormity of this race hasn’t hit me, but I know this won’t be easy, so youth is on my side. I’ll be in the company of some of the world’s best athletes—and their ages inspire me—so I expect to finish a stronger and wiser person. John and I may be the youngest, but I think we’re also the most enthusiastic!
RS: You both admit that the Gobi will be difficult. Are you nervous?
John: If I am, I don’t feel it. I am quite excited to see what sort of physical challenge I’ve gotten myself into!
Alexis: I think that I am nervous enough for both of us! There’s much training and preparation ahead that must be undertaken in a short amount of time. I get a little anxious when I imagine what could happen to us during the race, but the anticipation is part of the thrilling Gobi March experience, so I keep that in mind.
RS: You mentioned that an eight-person team of professors, undergraduates and grad students from your university—Tembusu College—undertook the Gobi March as the Tembusu Globe Trekker team. What tips and experiences did they share?
John: I think the most valuable tip we received is about being realistic in terms of our physical and emotional expectations. We learned a lot about what the terrain will be like and about physical reactions we can expect to experience when it comes to weather, terrain and environmental conditions. It helps to have such information while training so we condition correctly. Other great tips from the Globe Trekker team have to do with logistics and administrative matters impacting the race. This information has been invaluable for both of us.
Alexis: I couldn’t have answered that question better myself.
RS: Can you tell us what is it about the Gobi that impressed you both so much that you chose it above all other races on the running calendar?
John: (Laughs.) I’m not sure myself! I think it started as a wild wish in my head—a “Someday, I’m going to go for the Gobi” brainstorm. Finally, I asked myself,
“What am I waiting for?“
Once I started communicating with the race organisers, I knew the time had come. I’m impressed with the way this event is organised and I feel safe signing up for it—a big factor these days.
Alexis: I’m not like women who like to play it safe! I was sold on the event the minute I heard about the Gobi March the first time, but the timing was bad because I was committed to the Sahara, another event organised by the 4 Deserts group. But now, the timing is perfect and with John by my side, this is the perfect race to run.
RS: Unforgiving terrain can’t be easy. How do you train for the Gobi so you finish in good physical shape?
John: First, I think one must be realistic, listen to the advice we’ve been given and get on with it. That said, perhaps the most important advice we received is this: train in conditions that closely approximate the desert so there are no surprises awaiting us and we avoid injuries.
Alexis: My mantra is:
“Run. Run. Run.“
There’s no easy way to undertake training, and when you throw in a desert, that ups the ante for physical and emotional endurance. John and I work as hard to prepare our minds as we do our bodies by clocking lots of mileage. And John is right when he says that nothing replaces training in an environment that’s similar to the actual conditions of the race.
RS: Thus far in your running careers, what are the most extreme, longest races you have taken part in?
John: I’m going to have to take you off the beaten track with my answer! It wasn’t a race; it was my naval diving unit’s Hell Week. The name says it all.
Alexis: A half-marathon has thus far been my biggest challenge, so I’ll experience the biggest learning curve between the two of us.
RS: Did either of you get warnings from your family about undertaking the Gobi March?
John: My parents know me well enough to understand that I won’t accept a challenge that I can’t handle, so they had no objectives and are supportive. Mom says I’m old enough to make my own decisions and to assess calculated risks—as long as I promise to “be careful”.
Alexis: Parents of girls worry more than parents of boys, so they’re frightened about what I could face while doing something this extreme. But they also know I’m determined. I’m more of a risk-taker than most girls and they understand what motivates me to run, so I think that they are proud that I’m entering this daunting race.
RS: Every runner has ups and downs. How to you motivate yourself when you’re down?
John: If I get sick—even flu—I lose my running momentum and it takes a lot of self-discipline to put on those shoes once I’m recovered. But once I’m on a run, it takes no time at all to get right back into the zone.
Alexis: Having a huge goal like this race incentivizes me, and having that race date circled on my calendar—29th May—well, just looking at that date gets me up. Oh, and John teases me to get moving if all else fails!
RS: We hear that you’re both running for the Riding For The Disabled Association Of Singapore, too. True?
John: It’s an honor to represent a charity at a high-profile, international event like the Gobi March, and I can’t think of a nonprofit I respect more. The RDA focuses on giving the disabled chances to lead independent lives at home and in school. Children feel just like ordinary kids thanks to the efforts of the RDA. Seeing their faces was all it took to convince me of the merits of representing this great organisation in China.
Alexis: I learned about RDA from a friend who told me about free horseback riding classes for kids and adults with disabilities. As an animal lover, I instantly responded to this group’s mission. I can’t forget one child who couldn’t walk but now climbs up and down big buses after lots of horse therapy. Some say RDA animal therapy is as effective as surgical intervention and I believe it. When John and I represent RDA at Gobi, we’re going to take the story of this amazing organisation to the world.
RS: Any final goals in conjunction with the Gobi March you would like to share with our readers?
John: My goal is simple: I want to start well, finish well and enjoy everything in-between!
Alexis: My goal is to publicize RDA and raise funds for them, too. My second goal is to prove to myself that I can do this—that I have the strength and willpower to accomplish this. No matter where I finish, I will hold my head high because I will have given it my all. I even plan to recall the pain afterwards so I have a future frame of reference next time I start complaining that something is too hard!
John is stoic. Alexis is an impetuous, funny wonder woman. Both are unique souls bound together by a common goal and that bond is sure to get them through the hardest times when things get tough during the Gobi. Their strong relationship suggests a question only you can answer: What experience do you recall that you couldn’t have survived without another person by your side? Your unique story is priceless and we’d love to read it so take a few minutes from your running schedule to write it and send it our way!
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